One could easily fill a page with the merits and pitfalls of roasting a turkey, and I intend to. There are as many ways to cook a bird as there are people cooking them; to brine or not to brine, to cover with foil, deep frying!?!? Like most everything thing else in this world, I know one way to do this and it works. Regardless of the specifics of cooking technique I am completely sold on the idea of an herb rub prior to cooking. I normally cook a bird in the 12 to 15 pound range and the recipe reflects that, a larger bird will simply call for a greater quantity of each ingredient.
In a small cast skillet melt 1/2 to 2/3 stick of butter over very low heat. Add to this 3-4 cloves minced garlic, 3 Tbs minced rosemary and 3 Tbs minced sage. The combination will look more like a mass than individual ingredients sautéing in a pan of butter. Heat this over low heat stirring occasionally, careful not to burn, for at least ten minutes to infuse the butter with the flavor of the herbs.
While this rub is heating you have another job to do. It is not for the faint of heart and vegetarians should be directed toward the cookie tray and out of the kitchen for a moment. Place the turkey on the counter. With neck and giblets and all else that may have previously been placed inside the cavity removed, and with clean hands, you are ready to begin. What you have to do is loosen the skin all the way around the bird, being very careful not to tear the skin in the process. Start at the cavity and gently wriggle and insert your fingers between the skin and breast slowly and carefully work around the thighs and up toward the wings. Take your time, be as thorough as possible and again be careful not to tear the skin. Once you have loosened the skin take the rub off the heat. When the rub is cool enough to touch, but still melted, use your hands to rub it under the skin and onto the bird as thoroughly and evenly as possible. I do not usually stuff my birds, but at this point you are the boss and the turkey is ready for any cooking technique you prefer. I usually cook ours on the barbecue thereby saving the oven for all the other goodies that the day brings. Using an oven thermometer I gauge 450 degrees and place the bird in the Barbie in a large baking pan, uncovered and breast up. Do not place over direct heat. I immediately reduce the temp. to approximately 350 and use the need to baste as an excuse to stand outside with friends around a warm barbecue while others take over the kitchen. I figure on cooking the turkey for 15-20 minutes per pound and always let the instant read thermometer have the final word. When inserted at the thickest part of the thigh it should read 180 degrees.
If you care to, you may utilize the first half hour of cooking time by preparing vegetables to be added to the roasting turkey when there is about 40 minutes of cooking time left. Truth be told, the turkey will not need to be basted until it has cooked for about 1/2 hour. A combination of whole garlic cloves, rings of leeks (1/2 inch), chopped fennel, and large chunks of carrot can be prepared and tossed with olive oil in a large bowl with salt and pepper to taste. When the time is right add them to your roasting pan and let them cook with the bird for the final 30-40 minutes. This recipe translates easily to the oven for those of you who don't care to brave the elements.